Cellphone stalemates: How should schools deal with them?

In the wake of the South Carolina incident, local high school teacher Marcus Patton discusses cellphones in class and the challenges they present. This appeared on his terrific blog.

As we’ve discussed, cellphones seem a no-win for schools. Nervous parents want their kids to have them in this world of lockdowns and active shooter drills. And a surprising number of parents now expect to be able to text their kids at school at 1 p.m. and get a response.

I especially like Patton’s comments about high school students, which I noted in bold. He addresses an important point about their ability to see life beyond high school, given our attempts now to prod freshmen into choosing career paths.

Also, I often hear experts say teachers must engage every student, that “we can’t afford to lose one student.” But while teachers attempt to engage those kids who keep checking their phones, don’t they risk losing the attention of the other students in the class?

This is what I wish teachers could tell high school kids: “This is your education, your future. I can’t sing and dance up here every minute to keep your attention.  You have to participate. You have to expend some effort and energy on your own education. I can’t do it alone.”

By Marcus Patton

Many years ago, before I became a teacher, a coworker bemoaned to me that her son had gotten into trouble in school for reading a magazine in class.

Can schools figure out how to keep kids from straying into online diversions? (AP Photo)

Can schools figure out how to keep kids from seeking refuge in their phones?  (AP Photo)

“What’s the big deal?” she asked, “It’s just a magazine.”

Even in my pre-educator mindset, I could not let the obvious answer to that question pass. “It’s a big deal because the teacher is trying to educate your son, and not only is he giving up an opportunity to learn, he is showing disrespect to the teacher’s efforts to help him.”

Her reaction was one of surprise that I would stand up for an officious teacher instead of her dear child who wasn’t bothering anyone. She didn’t give any hint that she thought he was missing anything important by burying his nose in a magazine.

I think back to the many times as a teacher that I have called students on their off-task behavior. Typically, students would cry no foul. “But we weren’t doing anything in class, so what’s the difference?” In a patient mode, I would explain that time devoted to working on their own was not time off. Just because I wasn’t engaging them directly didn’t mean they shouldn’t be engaged in their assignment. Class time was for schoolwork.

Only in recent years has the form of off-task behavior shifted from the classics – dozing off, talking, reading or writing something unrelated to the class – to a newer electronic form of distraction. The cellphone.

Cellphones, and especially smartphones, have changed the way we interact with the world. And we seem to love it. They are addictive. Who hasn’t felt a sense of disproportionate panic when a phone has been misplaced? Who hasn’t pulled out a phone at a traffic light only to feel an ill-advised urge to continue texting, continue surfing, when the light turned green?

I did just fine without a cellphone for most of my life, but I bought one when my first son was born 14 years ago. I can feel the pull of cellphone addiction even though I know perfectly well that life is good – and in many ways better – without that electronic tether. My son grew up in a world in which “everyone” had one. He got his last year when he was in eighth grade. My younger son got one this year as a seventh-grader. Both of them know classmates who carried phones in elementary school.

A cellphone is a natural place of refuge for a bored kid.

Last week, I was in a meeting for 9th and 10th graders and their parents on the topic of preparing for college. The facilitator asked, what is the biggest challenge among the steps a student needs to take to get ready for life after high school?

I said, “The hardest thing for 9th graders to do is to imagine that there is life after high school. I taught 11th graders for years, and they were just starting to grasp that reality. Until that switch is flipped inside of them, parents are going to have to carry most of the weight.”

The father sitting across from me nodded and said, “That’s true. We went to visit a college campus and my son wouldn’t even get out of the car.”

Meanwhile his son, knowing that all eyes in the room were on him, continued to attend to his cellphone. I watched him. He was interacting exclusively with the phone for almost the entire remaining hour of the meeting.

I thought about the conversation years ago with my former co-worker. In her story the teacher had snatched the magazine out of her son’s hands. You can’t do that with cellphones. They are too expensive and liability issues make it unfeasible.

I thought about the recent case in South Carolina in which a uniformed officer dragged a student forcefully from her chair after she refused to put away her phone.

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen commented on the case to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Why is an officer called to the classroom when a kid doesn’t give up their cellphone? To me, that’s not an officer issue. It’s a classroom management issue. … It’s about do we have relationships with kids.”

I agree that conflicts in classroom management are better resolved when teachers have good relationships with their students. But I wonder if sometimes, students feel a stronger relationship with their phones than they do with any of the authority figures in their lives.

How would you have handled the situation if you were a teacher and a student in your class refused to put away his or her phone?

Reader Comments 0

83 comments
sdb999
sdb999

No Cell Phones, No Internet, No Email, No Online Homework.  Just teach and learn from a high quality text face to face.  It's not complicated we've just lost sight of the basics with the onslaught of technology.

SUNKEN SUB
SUNKEN SUB

The simple answer is the cell phone blocker.

There is no right to instant, two way communications.  It's called radio silence in the armed services.

Units are available with ranges measured in feet and yards. Classrooms can be effectively blocked.

Hallways and/or common areas can be arranged to allow use there.

The FCC should re-evaluate its position on cell phone blocker use.

It is absolute nonsense that prisons can't use blockers. 

The problem is employees who think they have a right to use personal cellphones on the job.


Will this happen ? HELL NO. Should it ? double HELL YES.
















RealLurker
RealLurker

@SUNKEN SUB It is not nonsense that cell phone blockers are illegal.  It should not be allowed that someone can interfere with the use of frequencies for their intended purpose.


For prisons, or schools, or businesses that want to inhibit radio usage, Faraday cages are not illegal.  They do not emit anything that would interfere with the intended use of frequencies.  They do however, prevent radio waves entering or exiting.  If you build a prison with a Faraday cage on the external structure, cell phones WILL NOT work inside.  If you want to prevent cell phone use inside a restaurant, there is no law against erecting a cage around your business.

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

You think cell phone abuse is limited to an academic setting?  Unless the boss is speaking, just about every business meeting I've attended in the past few years had half the attendees with heads down engrossed in their smart phones and iPads.  I've witnessed drivers come within inches of death and they never realized it because they were on their phones.  I've seen four people at a table in a restaurant and they never say a word to each the entire meal because they were texting / emailing. 

It just goes on and on.

RealLurker
RealLurker

@Lee_CPA2

Computers keep people from interacting with each other.....

Televisions interfere with family meal time and conversations.....

The telephone keeps people from meeting face to face and having real discussions.....

The phonograph will keep people from actually listening to "real" music from live musicians.....


The cell phone is just the newest bad guy from centuries of "distractions" and impediments to social interaction.


Before there were cell phones, I personally saw people driving while:  reading books, reading the newspaper, applying makeup, and many more things.  The cell phone did not "cause" people to read the newspaper in traffic in the 80s and 90s.  The cell phone does not "cause" people to read text messages in the 2010s.  We should be rallying against the ACTIONS of people and not against the tools they use to do them.

redweather
redweather

@RealLurker @Lee_CPA2 Sorry but the data available regarding cellphones and automobile accidents is well nigh overwhelming. Comparing cellphone use while driving with some of these other things makes no sense. For example, as far as I am aware only some members of one half of the population apply makeup while driving. Hard to find a driver these days who doesn't have a cell phone.

RealLurker
RealLurker

@redweather "Sorry but the data available regarding cellphones and automobile accidents is well nigh overwhelming."  -- So is it your contention that the cell phone "forces" people to use it while they are driving?  The entire point that I was making is that for hundreds of years, people have blamed some new device for the downfall of humanity.  Please point me to one accident that was caused by a cell phone.  Not an accident caused by a PERSON acting irresponsibly with a cell phone, but one that was caused purely by the phone itself.  We need to hold the irresponsible people responsible for their actions.  We need to implore PEOPLE to act more responsibly.  Blaming the tool is a far to easy cop out.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

I would have gone around to a couple of students and asked to borrow their cellphones for a class experiment. Once they gave 'em to me, I'd tell them they could have them back once the offender gave me hers.

Let her classmates deal with her.

FIGMO2
FIGMO2

@OriginalProf @FIGMO2

You're probably right...

unLESS failing to turn over your phone upon request gets you in-school suspension. Some won't want it, some won't care.

Bootcamp discipline. Punish all for the acts of one. 


Point
Point

Parents insist on their children having  phones and complain the loudest when policies are in place restricting them to backpacks or lockers. Many schools have tried to incorporate the phones  in bring your own technology lessons but not sure how that works out.

redweather
redweather

My students turn in their phones at the beginning of class and pick them up at the end of class. 


"A cellphone is a natural place of refuge for a bored kid."


Sorry, Marcus, but boredom is an attitude.

RichardPerdue
RichardPerdue

Unfortunately, many students do not have the maturity to have a cell phone in the classroom and use it for instructional purposes, especially when it's not viewed as an instructional device, but more of a social mechanism.  Until the public educational system starts holding PARENTS more accountable for their children's learning and BEHAVIOR...the blame game will continue and the "band will play on".

Likewise
Likewise

Why would anyone want to be a teacher?

PaperbakWriter
PaperbakWriter

@Likewise 

Because some people, like my wife, actually care about the well-being of your ignorant little bed-sheet stains. Even if you don't. 

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

Maureen,


Please, please do a blog about the cellphone video 11 Alive broadcast last night -- it shows a 14-year old Dekalb student beating the crap out of a 12-year old Dekalb student, leaving him with a broken nose.  The beating happened in a supervised detention room at (I believe) Cedar Grove MS.

popcornular
popcornular

Try taking a heroin addict's syringe away. 

MaField
MaField

I am totally against students with cell phones in class. Each teacher in every classroom across AMERICA should have a cell phone and a "panic" button to push for EMERGENCIES!!!

Libertylover
Libertylover

At my children's private high school, students were allowed to bring phones but had to keep them in their lockers during the day. Problem solved. 

AugustineBeary
AugustineBeary

We have been getting a record number of complaints from good students that they are distracted by other students playing games on the ipads when the teacher assumes the student is working on it,

BonnieAkridge
BonnieAkridge

I think ALL students with cell phones should have their names labeled on them and they go into a box at the beginning of every class and be handed back to the students by the teacher at the end of every class. And every parent should have the phone numbers of their childrens' schools on speed dial should they need to contact their child. And if the school is on lockdown what the heck can a parent do to stop it?? Children in schools on lockdown should NOT be on their phones because they should be listening to the instructions from teachers. 

FreshBreeze
FreshBreeze

Not one person mentioned that schools and teachers are allowing students to utilize cell phones as part of classwork and assignments.  I've seen students using their phones to record science experiments, look up information for immediate use in a debate, watch a video relevant to the classroom topic, use group chats to plan study session, group projects, etc,, use an education equivalent of Twitter to run a "campaign" about parts of a cells in biology class, and more. 


Smart phones can be an excellent way to engage and motivate students in a classroom.  There has always been a challenge to engage students in a classroom - some students just don't care. Rather than assume a smart phone is a detriment to learning, maybe some teachers should find ways to utilize what all the students are addicted to anyway!

RealLurker
RealLurker

@FreshBreeze Cell phones are merely a tool.  You can do good things with cell phones, such as record your science experiment.  You can do bad things with cell phones, such as use it in class while ignoring the teacher.  The cell phone itself does not do anything good or bad.

RealLurker
RealLurker

@class80olddog No reason to bring up gun control in this discussion.  The point I was trying to make is that the issue is not with cell phones themselves, the issue is with behavior of children.  If every child has a cell phone, but is well behaved, there is no problem.  If no child has a cell phone, but they are not well behaved, there is a problem.  


In general, people try to blame something easy such as the cell phone.  The cell phone doesn't cause any harm.  The bad behavior of children, some with cell phones, does cause harm.  It is much easier to blame the cell phone and try to get rid of it than to address the behavior problems and try to fix them.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@MaryElizabethSings @FreshBreeze 

Agreed, the teacher "should not put up with it." But what if the students refuse to stop using their cellphones?  Or use them surreptitiously under their desk? Don't do what the teacher tells them to do? That is the crux of the problem. Nowadays, students very often ignore what their teacher tells them to do, in K-12 and in college.  Then what??

MaryElizabethSings
MaryElizabethSings

@FreshBreeze 

Excellent point. Creative, "out-of-the-box" thinking, and you may be onto something for the future in education. Teachers must monitor students for on-task activity, anyway, so teachers well should be able to decide who is on-task and who is off-task in their use of the latest technology in their cell phone/I-phone use.  Dividing line:  teacher ordained or not.  Just as a good teacher would not put up with constant student gossiping during class time, the same teacher should not put up with student off-task behavior "gossiping" or playing on the cell phone during class time.

bu2
bu2

Cell phones are addictions.


But note the mention of the "bored' kid.


I was a very good student and very focused, but there were lots of times in junior HS and sometimes in high school where I got bored and would draw, write a story, practice writing with the opposite hand, or do other work.  Never read a magazine, but I didn't carry them with me.  Phones are a way to deal with boredom that is also addictive.  You simply need detention or confiscation anytime one comes out barring an emergency.  And some teachers need to do a better job keeping their students attention.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@bu2 

The problem with confiscation is that nowadays Smartphones can cost  $100s ($600, I think), and once you take it away you're responsible for it. Too many possibilities for mix-ups, thefts, damage, etc. on giving them back.

heyteacher
heyteacher

@OriginalProf @bu2


I only take up cell phones for major assessments (3-4 times a semester)-- it is wayyyy  to time consuming to label them, lock them up, and return them for a regular class day. It's a constant battle. 

OldPhysicsTeacher
OldPhysicsTeacher

@bu2 

Quote from below, "... at the end of the day it's my job to be teaching, not policing phones."

Right, and you blame the teacher for not being a TV star with writers, and extra 'takes" to get the one-lines just perfect without having to add a laugh track.

What you, and a bunch of parents, seems to forget is that teachers are not there to keep the students' attention.  THAT'S THEIR JOB!    

Some of the parents do their job.  Then the student does their very best to learn all the material they are being taught as most of it will be usable in their future.  Then the students get into good colleges, get a good degree with high grades, and then get a very good job.  That's what's known as "dumb luck" to students who are constantly on their phones. 

WhiteRabbit
WhiteRabbit

I teach college and a certain percentage of students are simply impossible with the phones and some are quite nasty if you ask them to put the phone away--push these individuals and you've got a big discipline problem on your hands.  Hate to say it, but it is *always* girls and always "princesses" and they are the worst to manage and totally selfish when it comes to the prof's time or other students' time.  "Turn it off" is not even conceivable to them--if they get "put it away" it's a major victory.  I wish I could just assign an "F" for the course in these cases and have the student removed from the class, but that is not the way it works and at the end of the day it's my job to be teaching, not policing phones.  Thankfully this is not a problem with most students, but for the ones for whom it is a problem watch out because that's just an invitation to the next level of pathology, which is what they want to show you and what you absolutely do not want to have to deal with because once God Almighty Complex Spoiled Brat goes off, Baby, you have got one hell of a mess and paperwork, too.

bu2
bu2

@WhiteRabbit

Sounds like the idea of giving them a F for an assignment should be taken up with the dean.  You aren't the only one having this problem.

Mix2011
Mix2011

@bu2 @WhiteRabbit  How about giving a pop quiz every time someone is playing on their phone.  If they are not paying attention, they will will.  But it also makes the whole class responsible.  If they see someone on the phone, maybe they will tell them to put it away before the pop quiz is given.

popcornular
popcornular

@OriginalProf

Remove them from class and put them where? So many un-PC suggestions from the very PC liberals. 

WhiteRabbit
WhiteRabbit

@bu2 @WhiteRabbit Well, it can be done if, for example, the student is taking an exam because then it could be cheating and I have seen that and acted on it.  But for texting during class discussion, that's not technically in the middle of an "assignment" so that's tough to do--then you have to argue for disrupting class and no one wants to support an F for simple disruption.  The real problem is when you have a person who is just using the phone to invite trouble hiding use in plain sight, that kind of thing.  Everyone in the classroom hates it but the people who do it are just really tough students to work with and not generally worth the time unless you want a little war with a rude person who does not share the values of the class.  Every once in a while you get one and you try and you try and they hate you for it and it's a drag and you are very thankful that child is not yours for more than 75 mins 2x/wk.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@popcornular @OriginalProf 

In college, which is what I've referring to, anywhere they want to go so long as it is out of class. Professors are able to do things that K-12 teachers are not, remember.  WhiteRabbit mentioned that he/she is a teaching in college.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@redweather @WhiteRabbit 

Yes, this would work...if you grade on class participation. I never did because, 1) it seems too subjective; 2) some students are naturally shy, and culturally inhibited against speaking up in class, such as Middle Eastern students; 3) it seems to guarantee a grade appeal.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@redweather @OriginalProf @WhiteRabbit 

"Capricious grading" (not grading all students according to the same standard) is a ground for grade appeal at my university. How can you produce objective reasons for giving one student an A for class participation, another a B or C? What about the student who participates, all right, but always says something stupid? Do you give Fs for such class participation?  Etc.

redweather
redweather

@OriginalProf @redweather @WhiteRabbit Students know that I ask questions. If they have come to class prepared, they can answer those questions.  If they are not prepared, they can't. They get a check for an appropriate answer, a minus for one indicating they are not prepared or are goofing. They can earn (or lose) class participation points for other things which I post in the syllabus. It's all about putting it in writing. And it's my word, and my record, against theirs.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@WhiteRabbit 

The university where I taught has a "Disruptive Student" policy which allows a teacher to remove a student who is disrupting class, after sufficient warning to the student. It allows for immediate removal, not removal after student appeal which would allow the student to continue in the class. I advise you to pressure your university Senate (or faculty governing body) to pass something similar, and then to be willing to use this policy to remove these students from your class. Do it once or twice and make it stick, and the word will get out.  I never had to use it myself but I threatened to use it, sometimes bringing in a copy of the Student Code as proof the policy existed. This seemed to do the trick.


I agree with you about the usual gender of the phone-users, and I'm female.

redweather
redweather

@WhiteRabbit I grade students for their class participation, and I used to tell them on Day One that IMHO they could not effectively participate if they were monitoring their cell phones. If I saw a phone, they lost a class particpation point; they could lose up to ten of those during the semester, meaning they would forfeit as much as one letter grade.  That worked for the most part.  Now I simply have them turn their phones in at the beginning of class and pick them up on their way out. Much easier.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@WhiteRabbit @bu2 

Put it in the syllabus, in writing, that texting in class or using a cellphone will result in the student being removed from class... then do it!

AugustineBeary
AugustineBeary

@WhiteRabbit I teach a college class and the policy is, if any cell phone goes off in class, that student has to buy donuts for the entire class the next time we meet.  I don't have to enforce this policy, the other students do it for me.

anothercomment
anothercomment

Get off your high horse, most professors at Georgia State where you claim to have taught grade on class participation. Plus who gives a crap about the middle eastern student this is the US they need to assimilate.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@anothercomment 

I've never stated where I taught. Yes, some professors may grade on class participation...I didn't.  Seemed like a way of forcing students to participate when they should do it of their own accord. And I "gave a crap" about all my students. Pacific Rim Asian students also are reluctant to participate because they are taught that speaking up in class is disrespectful to the professor. My university had many international students, and prided itself on its globalism.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@redweather @OriginalProf @anothercomment 

I was referring to international students from the Pacific Rim who were exchange students here, and didn't want to speak up in class. 

I really feel pretty strongly that a teacher should not have to bribe students to speak up in class!

readcritic
readcritic

@WhiteRabbit At a small city school, the teacher was disciplined because the he actually expected the students to follow the rules and put cellphones away when politely asked. The students also were using phones during testing and boldly charged phones in classroom outlets, which laminated posters distributed to classroom teachers by the administrator clearly stated was not permitted. When the teacher wrote discipline referrals for student failure to comply, students complained to the administrator and the teacher was disciplined for being too demanding. This is why students are not as smart as their phones.